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Biography

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Overview (3)

Date of Birth 15 September 1915London, England, UK
Date of Death 26 October 1999Santa Barbara, California, USA  (Parkinson's disease)
Nickname Al

Mini Bio (1)

Albert Whitlock was one of the most skilled matte artists in the history of motion pictures, with his work seen in more than 500 films and television shows. His very long career began in London in 1929, when, at the age of 14, he was a fetch-and-carry fellow at Gaumont Studios. He went on to build sets and worked as a grip. Trained as a sign painter, Whitlock began a life-long association with Alfred Hitchcock, doing all of the signs for The 39 Steps (1935) and then assisting in the miniature effects for The Man Who Knew Too Much (1934). The two maintained a close personal and professional relationship, working together upon several films through Hitchcock's final film, Family Plot (1976).

During World War II Al started doing matte work. His first solo glass shot was a ballroom scene appearing in The Bad Lord Byron (1949). He apprenticed alongside Peter Ellenshaw, under W. Percy Day (aka Pop). Admiring Al's work done within Walt Disney's British studio in the early 50s, Walt Disney, convinced Al to re-locate to America. Upon doing so in 1954, his first work was designing the titles for 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1954). Ellenshaw had preceded him, and was in charge of the Disney matte department.

At Disney, Whitlock successfully mastered his impressionistic approach to matte painting. Like the works of French Impressionism, they are not detailed upon close inspection. However, on the screen they are very realistic. He remained at Disney for seven years, helping with the design of Disneyland as well as film work.

Moving to Universal in 1961, and would head up the matte department there. Many considered Al the greatest master of the matte starting from this time to his retirement. He efficiently aided film productions by being able to supply masterful effects for films varying greatly in budget, often taking very little time to do so. His effects for the $10 million feature The Hindenburg (1975), cost just $180,000 (Paramount spent more than $20 million for the special effects on Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979) just four years later). Like other matte artists, he blocked-out parts of shots into which the painting was inserted. However, Al developed a trademark technique of doing it all on the original negative, so his matte work was all first generation. The original negative of the live action was left undeveloped except for a portion used to guide the creation of the matte painting. The painting was then exposed on the negative and combined with the original photography. He also typically added moving elements such as clouds or waves to give more life to mattes (a skyline of Manhattan from an aerial perspective in The Hindenburg (1975) is a good example of this). The opening shot of 1930s Chicago in The Sting (1973) incorporated an elevated train into a skyline matte painting with live-action traffic, buses and pedestrians. For the dust-storm sequence in Bound for Glory (1976), three large balls of cotton dyed the color of dust were mounted on cardboard and rotated at different speeds. Portions of each matte were half-exposed, once with dust moving toward the camera and then with it moving away from the camera. This produced the effect of eddying dust.

After all the other studios closed their matte departments, Universal frequently loaned out Whitlock and his staff. Working with director of photography Conrad L. Hall, Whitlock produced matte paintings for the climactic scenes of The Day of the Locust (1975) at Paramount. Mel Brooks gave Al the chance to act in High Anxiety (1977) and cast him as a used chariot dealer in History of the World: Part I (1981).

Whitlock retired from Universal in 1985, but continued working on occasional productions for a few more years.

- IMDb Mini Biography By: Brian Greenhalgh

Trivia (9)

He became head of Universal's Matte Department in 1963.
He moved to the United States in 1954.
He was taught matte painting by British matte painting pioneer W. Percy Day.
His artistic talent led to a promotion at British Gaumont into a job where he would paint signs and scenery.
His first job in the industry was as an errand boy at Gaumont British Studios.
In addition to the quality of his work, Whitlock was known for the speed at which he was able to complete his assignments. All of the matte paintings for Earthquake (1974) were completed in only 12 weeks.
George C. Scott was quoted as saying that The Hindenburg (1975) was actually Whitlock's movie.
He did the matte painting of the fortress for The Man Who Would Be King (1975) in only six hours.
His work as a painter was cut short when he developed Parkinson's Disease.

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